New Year’s Pop Culture Resolutions for 2012

This is a list of things that were produced before 2012 that I intend to try and consume during this new calendar year.

1. The Hunger Games trilogy – There is a movie coming out in March.  I will have read the first book by then.  In fact, I have already purchased all three book on my Kindle, it is just a matter of finishing up a couple of other books before I dive into this series.

2. Doctor Who – Among others, my friends the Pinaults have sung this shows praises to me fr quite some time now.  I watched the first episode with Christopher Eccleston a few months ago.  I will watch more in 2012.

3. Deadwood – This HBO series is complete and already queued up for me on Netflix.  It’s just a matter of making it priority.

4. Boardwalk Empire – I want to see at least the first season, which will be coming out soon on Netflix.

5. Homeland – A Showtime series that I heard very positive reviews about and since I don’t get Showtime, I will have to wait for the DVDs, probably sometime in late 2012 as Showtime is notorious for delaying the release of their DVDs for about a year, usually right before the next season’s premiere.

6. Dead Like Me – This is another completed series that has been on my Netflix queue for a very long time.  And it’s available on Watch Instantly.

7. Freaks and Geeks – A show that didn’t even make it out of its first season, but so many people involved with this show went on to be stars to some degree.  Probably one of the most glaring blind spots in terms of shows I’ve missed out on.

8. Twin Peaks (Season 2) – As a X-Phile, I feel like I owe it to myself to see the rest of this show, because of how many times the shows are compared to one another.  But I’m just so anti-Lynch that I have a hard time investing myself in this show.  I need to just bite the bullet and get it over with.  And then I can decided whether or not I want to devote any more of my time to anything Lynchian or just be done with him altogether.

9. Justified – A show on FX that has gotten a lot of positive press for its first two seasons, its third season is premiering sometime this month.  I think my plan will be to start recording the new episodes on DVR and save them until I get caught up on the DVDs.

10. A Song of Ice and Fire – The series of books for the Game of Thrones TV series on HBO.  I loved the first season of the show and I started reading the first book.  Now that the second season is coming up this spring, I want to at least get through the second book before I see the upcoming season.



Reading in 2011

I have tried to make more of an effort to read in the last few years, with varying degrees of success.  As my current job is overnight and affords me a lot of free time, it’s usually torn between movies, reading on the internet about news and sports and pop culture, or reading books.  Movies have actually also inspired me to get more into books too, as I’ve purchased and have read or intend to read several books that have movie adaptations that have been released recently or are scheduled in the next few years.

One thing I have noticed is that my reading habits have changed.  Sadly, I still read very slowly, which means it can take me a long time to get through a book.  But where in the past I used to read only one book at a time, I’ve developed a habit of reading 3 or 4 books at a time with different levels of involvement for all of them, depending on my mood at the time I’m interested in picking up a book, physical or digital.  As it stands right now, I am currently reading three books with three more that I have started and not progressed in much because I lost interest for one reason or another.  I’m not sure whether this is a good habit or a bad habit.  probably mostly bad, as I see similar traits in other aspects of my life.  For instance, when I come back from the grocery store with a lot of new groceries, I am eager to sample at least a little bit of everything at the very beginning (does this happen with anyone else?).

I used to read one book and not pick up another one unless I completed it or decided to drop it altogether.  But, then again, I didn’t necessarily do a lot of leisure reading growing up and most of my reading in high school and college came from books I had to read for classes, so even then I suppose I was reading multiple books at the same time, just required reading instead of reading for pleasure.  So maybe the conclusion is that my adult self is compensating for the lack of the classroom and homework in my life.

At any rate, I made it a goal of mine to read 25 books this year, which was, admittedly, very ambitious on my part, given that it would require a rate of just over 2 books per month.  I actually started out pretty well for the first couple of months, which is longer than I usually stick with anything resembling a New Year’s resolution.  But as spring turned into summer, my consistency in reading fell by the wayside.  At the rate I’m going, I should end up reading about 15-16 books this year, which is pretty impressive to me.

Here is a list of the 13 books I have read this year, including 2 that I started in December of last year:
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen & Seth Grahame-Smith
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Dark Tower: The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King
Zombie, Spaceship, Wasteland by Patton Oswalt
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Love Wins by Rob Bell
Religiously Transmitted Diseases by Ed Gungor
At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft
A Good Man Is Hard To Find by Flannery O’Connor
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
Mere Christianity Shepherd’s Notes by Terry L. Miethe

Currently, I am reading the following books:
Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto by Chuck Klosterman
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The War for Late Night by Bill Carter
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

I have essentially dropped The Turn of the Screw and The Invisible Man, though they remain on my list of books I am currently reading on Goodreads.  I found the writing style of Henry James interminable and The Invisible Man was tough sledding for some reason.  If I were to pick one back up, it would most certainly be The Invisible Man.

A Game of Thrones I will pick up again, probably after I finish Jane Eyre, because I loved the first season of the show on HBO and want to get through the other books before I see any future seasons.  But it is tough sometimes to read something that you have already seen adapted.  I would have had that problem with Pride and Prejudice had it not been for the zombified version of it to read concurrently.

Which is why I am currently trying to make my way through Jane Eyre, which I got for free on Amazon for the Kindle, but am forced to read on my laptop since I don’t actually own a Kindle.  Yet.  There was a very well-reviewed movie adaptation of Jane Eyre that was released this past spring which came out on DVD this summer.  It is currently sitting near the top of my Netflix queue, but I want to read it before I see the movie.

And speaking of movie adaptations, I come now to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.  A terrific spy novel by one of the masters of the genre.  The movie is scheduled to come out this November, featuring an all-star British cast.  The trailer hooked me for this movie, and convinced me to read the book.  And I was not at all disappointed.  Tinker is one of the movies I am looking forward to most this fall and winter.  I will definitely be seeing it opening weekend.

My biggest task on the horizon is also related to a movie that has been announced that is scheduled for 2013, Anna Karenina.  Luckily, I have enough advance notice that I can pace myself and try to tackle that one in 2012.  Probably along with 3 or 4 other books at the same time.


Pride, God & C.S. Lewis

My small group is in the process of reading through and discussing Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.  Tuesday night we had a spirited discussion about the chapter on pride.  Lewis wrote that the greatest sin is Pride or self-conceit.  It is a sin that is at the root of all other sin; the “utmost evil” and the “essential vice.”  Pride is simply putting the self before all others in any and every instance.  It is an excessive self-love and sets self up as the ultimate authority.  It is the exact opposite of humility.

Having read Mere Christianity back in college, I loved the book and got a lot out of it that has shaped my Christian beliefs ever since.  I found the chapter on Pride particularly insightful because it did such a good job helping me boiling down the essence of sin.  I came to view sin of any kind as being some kind of derivative of Pride; some way of Pride manifesting itself.

In Christianity, Pride is considered to be the downfall of Satan, who viewed himself as being equal to God.  It was this lie, this misplaced belief, that Satan then sold to Adam and Eve causing sin to enter creation.  It wasn’t the fruit that Adam and Eve ate that was the sin.  It was the act of
disobeying God’s command to not eat from the tree.  And what was the motivation behind that act?  They bought into the idea that they would be “like God.”  Satan appealed to their Pride, their desire to be more or greater.  This is just one of many examples of why the phrase “Pride cometh before the fall” exists.  Not just The Fall of Man, but in every instance where someone falls from grace or does something wrong, Pride is right there in the midst of it all.

I honestly believe that Pride is at work every time we sin.  Because every time we sin, we are saying with our actions that we know better than God.  This means we set ourselves up as our own god.  Because of this, we do not acknowledge God’s rightful authority, which means we are not acting in humility.  And Pride is the opposite of humility.

This idea that Pride is among the chief sins is a long held belief in Christian thought.  Lewis did not originate this idea.  Lewis set out in Mere Christianity to “explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.”  He was not saying anything new when he wrote that “Pride leads to every other vice; it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”  Christians as varied as St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, Matthew Henry, and John Stott have commented on the seriousness of Pride as the chief of all sins.  Part of the reason why Pride is so dangerous is that it is so difficult to for us to see it in ourselves and incredibly easy to see it in others.

This is why I love Mere Christianity because Lewis couches the chapter on Pride in between the chapters of Forgiveness and Charity(Christian love).  In these chapters, particularly in the one on Forgiveness, Lewis brings up the concept of “hate the sin, not the sinner.”  This seems like a difficult thing to actually do, but we have a perfect example, how we treat ourselves.  We are far more forgiving of ourselves than we are of others.  Lewis is saying that we should treat others in the same manner, which is really just another expression of the golden rule to love God and others as we love ourselves.  By extending to others the same forgiveness that we extend to ourselves, we help to keep our pride in check and stay humble.

Saying that Pride is the greatest sin may make us say, “Well, God says that sin is sin in his eyes.  No sin is greater than any other sin.”  This is true, but only insofar as it relates to God.  In his eyes, sin is sin because it creates that separation between us and God.  It doesn’t matter if the divide between us and God is a foot or a football field.  The important thing in God’s eyes is the existence of a divide.  But when it comes to us and sin, not all sin is created equally.  It has an impact on the soul, what Lewis refers to as that “tiny central stuff that no one else sees” in that some things may be more damaging to us in the short term or long term than others.  But it also has a real world impact that can affect our daily lives and also the lives of countless people around us.  What is so dangerous about Pride is its ability to almost seamlessly blend into the background and go undetected.  Like a disease, the longer something goes undiagnosed, the worse things usually are.

In the end, Pride is something every human being must deal with, both from within us and from outside sources.  The only way to combat Pride is humility, and in extending to others the grace and forgiveness that God has shown toward us.


Love Wins – A Few More Notes

I had a few more things I wanted to mention about the book and the talk surrounding it… 

There seems to be a thread in Christianity that doesn’t allow for anything that questions the status quo, which seeks to stifle any possible hint of doubt and dissent and questioning.  This is zealotry and ideology.  We should never be afraid of questions.  Nor should we be afraid of healthy doubt.  Not the kind of doubt of unbelief.  Rather, a doubt that leads us to ask questions and to seek answers to those questions.  To not be content with Sunday School answers.  The kind of doubt that can actually grow your faith.  On top of this, there needs to be a healthy doubt on our part, that is much like humility.  We need to question and humbly admit the limitations of our own reasoning as fallible human beings.  God’s thoughts and his way are higher and beyond our own.  While God has chosen to reveal himself through scripture, through Jesus Christ, and throughout history to his people, he has not revealed all things to us.  This gets back to the mystery of God that we need to allow for, because there is some information that we are not privy to.

I read a few more reviews and commentaries online about the book, and people still continue to misrepresent some of what Bell is saying.  They say that he doesn’t believe in a future hell, only that hell is real and present on earth right now.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  He actually says that there is a present hell and a future hell.  Just as he says there is a present heaven and a future heaven.  To me, this just smacks of someone who has their own particular talking points and only hears what they want to hear.  It’s something that happens all of the time in politics, and it drives me nuts.  Both sides, rather than addressing the issues or what their opponent actually is saying, they create a straw-man of what they believe their opponents argument is, and gear everything they say toward attacking that straw-man instead of actually taking on what is actually being said.  This also rears its ugly head when it comes to divisions/denominations in the Church too.  Just look at the predestination arguments or the “once-saved-always saved” debates that rage in Christian circles. 

It shouldn’t surprise me, but I was shocked by the level of hatred and venom spewed out by some people toward Rob Bell personally.  I can get disagreeing with what the man is saying.  And I can understand presenting differing viewpoints.  But some of the stuff out there, particularly from Christians, is not the kind of attitude that Christians should be presenting to the rest of the world.  Make no mistake, the rest of the world is watching this.  And how many of them are saying to themselves, “This is how they treat one of their own???” 

Along those same lines, though, I love that this is creating a discussion point in the Church.  I love that pastors are out there digging into the Bible and actually talking to their congregations about these things.  Even, and maybe especially, if they disagree with Rob Bell.  Because then it becomes a teachable moment for them and an opportunity to spread the gospel.

One of the criticisms of the book is about one of the chapters being dismissive of the importance of the cross, both as a symbol of what Christ did for us, but also that the sacrificial substitution model of it is something that is obsolete in today’s world.  In all honesty, that was not what I took away from that chapter, but I did think it was one of the weakest chapters of the book; the one in which he was most vague about what he was trying to say.  I do not believe that he was trying to be dismissive of the blood of Christ and the atonement that it provides to believers.  What I believe he is saying is that the concept of blood sacrifice is something foreign to our society today.  Back in 1st century Jerusalem, it was very common.  In fact, animal sacrifice was a pretty common practice throughout much of the civilized world at that time.  It’s not that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as a sacrifice was a metaphor itself, it was the illustration and symbolism that his death provided as a means of showing what God had accomplished through Christ.  It was something that resonated powerfully with the people of that time.  No doubt it impacts us today, but the resonance and impact of it is not the same for us as it would have been for those who grew up with animal sacrifice as a way of life. 

The important takeaway from Bell’s book, I think, is that we need to find those illustrations and symbols today that would have the same impact on us; that would resonate with us in the same way it did for the people back then.    There is a lot about the Bible that we miss out on today because we do not fully understand or realize the context of the world in which it was written.  Of course, there is still plenty that we are able to get out of it.  But when I discover a fuller context of a passage of scripture, it makes the verses come more alive for me.  It has more impact.  It is a challenge.  And I know that when I can relate what is being said in scripture to something in my own world that I can relate to and experience, it also becomes more alive to me then too. 


Love Wins by Rob Bell – A Review

A few years ago my small group started watching this video series called Nooma.  It was a series designed to foster discussion in a small group setting and ask questions and get people thinking.  Everyone in the group liked them and got a lot out of them.  The series was put out by the Mars Hill Bible Church and their pastor, Rob Bell.  After the video series, we also ended up reading a book of his, Velvet Elvis.  It was nothing really revolutionary or anything, but it was a pretty accessible read and made some good points.  We also watched a lecture DVD he had done called “The Gods Aren’t Angry” which was also pretty good.  On my own, I read his book Jesus Wants To Save Christians which I thought was a good idea for a book, but was actually a little disappointed with it in its execution.  Short of actually attending his church in Michigan, I’ve had pretty significant exposure to Rob Bell, his style, and his substance in the last few years.

I was a little surprised back in February when all of a sudden a big storm started to brew about an upcoming book by Rob Bell that was stirring the pot.  At the same time, I wasn’t that surprised, because I knew from his previous material that he had a tendency of sometimes saying intentionally provocative things intended to tweak certain stuffy Christians.  I also knew that sometimes he was a bit too vague and broad for his own good and sometimes he writing lacked focus, asking more questions than he was prepared to answer.  So I was curious to see what all the fuss was about.  A friend of mine on Facebook had posted a link to a blog that was decreeing that Rob Bell was now a Universalist and that he was finally showing his true colors in this new book.  I checked out the link, and, much to my surprise, the internet screed against Bell and his book was simply about the description of the book and not from anything that the blog writer had actually read.  I cautioned my friend to reserve judgment until the book was actually released and read before coming to ay conclusions about it. 

As it turns out, all of this was the tip of the iceberg.  This book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, has becoming the biggest trending topic relating to Christianity since Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ was released back in 2004.  The book, for better or worse, has opened up a huge can of worms in the Christian community concerning Church teaching on heaven and hell.  Pastors have been talking to their congregations about it, directly or indirectly (For what it’s worth, my pastorTravis Bush gave a… “hell” of a sermon on the subject a few weeks ago).  Sadly, I think the discussion itself has overtaken and outpaced the book in some ways and become its own entity.  Needless to say, I was eager to read the book. 

I almost bought it at Borders in South Portland, but it was $22+ in price, and I knew I could get it for less than half of that on Amazon, so I waited a few days before finally getting a chance to dig into it starting April 1st.  I devoured the first two chapters of the book on Friday, read the next two chapters over the course of Saturday and Sunday, and then finished off the remaining four chapters on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning while at work.  It’s a brisk 198 pages.

Going into it, I had my questions and concerns.  And it was also very hard to divorce the book from the controversy and discussion surrounding it and to merely read the book on its own merits.  I found myself getting fairly upset about halfway through the book at one point and then saying, “I’m not judging the book based on its own merits, but on the expectations of the criticisms and controversy around the book.”  So I had to force myself to shut that out. 

I thought the first two chapters were some of the best stuff that I’ve ever read from Rob Bell.  He does a good job of raising interesting questions to get you thinking and pondering things.  The second chapter deals with heaven, and I thought it was terrific.  We always seem to think of heaven as some “away, up there” kind of place, but we also need to keep in mind that Jesus prays for God’s will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven.”  Bell uses this as a spring-board to say that we need to be working on making heaven on earth now.  He also brings up an interesting point about how the early Christians and Jewish people in Jesus’ time viewed time itself.  They viewed time in terms of a present age and an age to come, which reminded me a bit of how time is viewed in Tolkien’s Middle Earth. 

What Bell rails against most is the mindset of Christians being so heavenly minded that they’re of no earthly good.  If Christians view heaven as some place we will someday escape to, the temptation then is to do nothing of real significance in our world.  Instead, he frame the discussion in terms of renewal and God reconciling the world to himself.  I think this is a mindset that Christians would do well to adopt. 

Framing the discussion, I think, is the biggest difficulty most people will have with this book and it is where the controversy about it stems from.  I think a big part of the issue at its heart is the disconnect in communication.  Words can have significant meaning, and to different people they can also mean slightly different things.  I think this is a barrier that has been the cause of a lot of division in the Church throughout history.  I think it again rears its ugly head here, because I don’t think Bell is saying what a lot of people think he is saying, necessarily. 

In his chapter on hell, he says that hell is a real thing that exists (similar to heaven), both now and in the future.  A lot of people are living in their own personal or communal hells every day.  And some people choose to reject love and goodness and those things that find their source in God.  In essence, what he says is a slightly nuanced/different way of saying that God does not send people to hell, but rather that people choose hell.  This is discussed in his chapter on whether God gets what God wants.  Bell posits the question that if God is all-powerful and is wishing that all would come to repentance, does God get what he wants in reconciling to himself everyone who has ever lived?  Ultimately, he says that is an unanswerable question, but that a better one exists: Do we get what we want?  And to this, his answer is a resounding “yes.”  And it is because of God’s love that we get what we want, even if it is not what he wants for us.  “If we want isolation, despair, and the right to be our own god, God graciously grants us that option.”  This is nothing controversial or revolutionary.  But because people have thrown out the “Universalist” label at him, basically a four-letter word in Christianity, people have taken up arms against Bell.

That last piece of the book that I think is controversial is what Bell says in his chapter about Jesus being the rock.  Of Jesus being the only way to God Bell says that “What he doesn’t say is how, or when, or in what manner the mechanism functions that gets people to God through him.”  His argument in this chapter is a bit convoluted, as he talks about exclusivity, inclusivness, and then an exclusivity on the other side of inclusivness.  All of that is a bit muddled.  But what I took away from that and other statements throughout the book is that Bells says we need to allow for the mystery of God.  We need to be ok with the idea that we do not know the full plans of God nor the entirety of how he may be at work in the world.  And when it comes to the afterlife, we do know some things, based on what Jesus said and in other passages of the Bible.  But there is a lot about it that we don’t know.  And since no one has been to the future or the “beyond” and come back with hard, empirical evidence we shouldn’t be making hard, fast judgments about the eternal destinations of people.

One smaller things that I loved in the book were comments that he made about objections people have with God.  “So when people say they don’t believe in hell and they don’t like the word ‘sin,’ my first response is to ask, ‘Have you sat and talked to a family who just found out their child has been molested?  Repeatedly?  Over a number of years?  By a relative?’  Some words are strong for a reason.” 

Any criticisms I have with the book have more to do with Bell’s style and only a little to do with his substance.  I find that he is apt to occasionally throw in one or two things that I think are either playful or intended to tweak a hardcore Christians audience.  In listing things off, at one point he mentions in passing “the woman who wrote the book of Hebrews.”  Now, the authorship of the book of Hebrews is unknown.  There is a lot of scholarly work out there as to who the potential author is, and one strand of thought suggests that the author is a woman, and that is why we do not know the author of the book; certain people in the early church suppressed that information.  Honestly, I don’t know whether Rob Bell genuinely believes that or not.  I’m sure he doesn’t think that the authorship of the book is as important as what the book of Hebrews actually says.  But because some people would very vehemently argue against the author being a woman, he throws it in there to tweak them.  Probably innocently, but, like in a few other instances, it’s unnecessarily antagonizing some of his audience. 

One problem I had with the book is that Bell offers up far more questions than he is willing to actually answer.  Now, it’s not a huge problem, because that is his style.  But sometimes it leaves you wanting more and wishing that he would come out with a definite position or answer.  As I said, at one point, I became very frustrated with the book because he said in answer to a question that he himself posed, that it was one we do not need to answer and can be content to leave it and its potential contradictions in tact.  It felt like a cop-out.  He recovered after that to finish the chapter nicely, but in that moment, I felt very perturbed.  Part of the problem with Rob Bell’s writing is that sometimes he is too vague and you would like him to be a little clearer about what he is saying.  However, when it comes to asking more questions than he intends to answer, I also realize that it is his style.  He asks questions in order to get the reader thinking. 

My biggest criticism is that he deals a bit too much in the realm of speculation.  He points out, correctly, that no one has been to the future/heaven and been back to report about it with concrete, tangible evidence.  In the grand scheme of things, there is scant little to go on.  As such, he says (again, correctly), that we shouldn’t make hard, fast judgments about people’s destinies, because ultimately none of us really know.  But if that is the case, he himself should not spend so much time in the book elaborating on what he thinks or hopes might be the case.  At the very least, say “I don’t have any more of an idea than the guy on the corner, but here is what I hope based on what I know of God…”  In his letters, Paul would often say something to the effect, “This is just me talking, not God…”  A simple preface like that would have been more than sufficient.  But instead, he leaves himself open to wrong interpretation of his words.

So, what exactly has happened?  Now that the dust has settled a bit, where do we stand?  And where do we go from here?

I think, ultimately, the intent of the book and the message the book was intended to convey was co-opted by people who then took the course of the discussion off in a way that Bell was not prepared for.  Before the book was even released, people were attacking the book.  They threw out the term “Universalist” and really charged the atmosphere surrounding the book and divided the audience.  I’m pretty sure that most of the people who are critical of the book have not actually read the book and are basing what they are saying upon what they have read and heard from others talking about the book. 

I think a healthy discussion of heaven and hell is good for the Church.  The Church is strong enough to stand up to any and all scrutiny, and to change if necessary.  How we present these things to the world around us should be at the forefront of our minds and how we go about integrating them into everyday life should be discussed.  Jesus never spoke about hell in order to lead sinners to God.  He preached good news.  The condemnations and the warnings were always for the religious leaders who were making things so difficult for the people. 

We should have a healthy appreciation for the mystery of God and acknowledge the unknown in God that has not been revealed to us.  We should not make hard and fast statements of people’s eternal destinies, because we don’t have all of the facts.  We should be focused on making God’s will real and present in the world today; “heaven on earth.”  We should realize that God’s love allows us to choose to reject it, to reject humanity, and to live a life apart from him. 

We should also make room for nuance and grace in our dealings with fellow believers.  So much of the barriers that come up between Christians is in misunderstanding and miscommunication.  We should bear with one another patiently.  Seek out what the person is really trying to say instead of rushing to judgment or assuming that they are defining things the same way you are. 

Finally, read the book.  If you are a believer, you owe it to yourself to know what you believe and why you believe it.  You should have a firm foundation.  A controversial book is not something to shy away from.  You can judge what it is saying on its own merits.  And you don’t have to accept the whole.  There can be some aspects of it that you disagree with.  But there may also be something valuable that you can take away from it.

Read what other people have to say about it too.  There are some great reviews of varying opinions here, here, here, and here.  Read more about or by Rob Bell.  The book is not a standalone piece; nothing ever really is.  Read the book in context of the bigger picture of what else Rob Bell has written or spoken about.  Test it for yourself.  Don’t be afraid to ask yourself the hard questions.


Reading Resolution

(For some reason, that title makes me think of Reading Rainbow…)

I don’t usually make New Year’s Resolutions, and hardly ever on New Year’s Eve or Day.  But a few weeks into this new year, I have decided that I want to read more books.  One one level this is not a difficult resolution.  I typically only read a handful of books each year anyway, so if I were to read one book a month, I’d be reading more.  However, on another level, it is a difficult resolution, because of my propensity to prefer the enjoyment of movies, TV shows, and video games over reading a book.

A very good website I belong to called Goodreads has a 2011 Reading Challenge, where I have challenged myself to read 25 books.  It is a small number compared to the average of per person of 74 books.  But I set the bar low because of what I plan on reading.  I’m going to try to dive into some classics.  I’ve only read one book by Ernest Hemingway (The Old Man and the Sea) and John Steinbeck (Of Mice and Men).  I’ve never read anything by Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy.  I’ve never read William Faulkner or Alexander Dumas.  I want to get back into some classical writers like Homer and Ovid.  In addition to the classics, I also intend to read more of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, no small task.  Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar series interests me too.  In addition to these books I’ll probably read one or two books through the course of my small group Bible study (I believe we are supposed to be tackling one of my favorite books, Mere Christianity, at some point this year).  I’d like to read Flannery O’Connor for the first time this year.  And Madeleine L’Engle is an author who somehow eluded me growing up.  I’d like to at least start her Wrinkle in Time series. 

I think I may also want to re-read a few books I fell in love with back in high school.  Fahrenheit 451 and Animal Farm captivated me like few books did in high school, and I’d like to revisit them at some point.  I also need to give The Catcher in the Rye a fair shake as I merely skimmed it back in high school.  Catch-22 is a book that I’m attempting to tackle at some point this year as well, but I am already a few chapters in and am not thrilled with it so far.  I’ve had other books recommended to me, like The Scarlet Letter, which I need to give another shot too, like Catcher

So the plan is that by announcing these intentions in a blog, some of my friends will be able to keep me to my task.  And that I will be able to keep myself to what I have charged myself to do.


The Great Gatsby – A Review

I recently re-read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I had read it back in high school and only remembered vaguely what happened in it.  I also remember there being a pretty lousy movie made of it back in the 70s that I saw in school starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow.  I had revently read that there was the possiblity of a new movie being made based on the book, this time directed by Baz Lurhmann, which gives me serious trepidation, especially when he talks in interviews about filming it in 3D.  So given all of that, I recently purchased the book off of Amazon in one of those splendid 4-for-3 deals that they have.  I am attempting to read more this year and build up my book collection, and I have many books on my Amazon wishlist.  But back to Gatsby.

For some reason, I fancied F. Scott Fitzgerald my favorite author back in high school.  I’m not sure why.  I think I felt like everyone was supposed to have a “favorite” author of some kind, and so I clamped onto the guy who wrote what was considered one of the great American novels of the 20th century and totally synonymous with a period of American history (the roaring 20s).  In reality, I didn’t read a lot of Ftzgerald or anyone outside of assigned reading for classwork.  But I read Gatsby of my own volition as a sophmore and remember doing a research paper on Fitzgerald centering on Gatsby and several short stories that Fitzgerald wrote.  I seem to remember enjoying his short stories more than Gatsby.  Which isn’t to say that I dislike The Great Gatsby.  It’s a fine work full of beautiful prose.  But it’s not an enjoyable story.  It’s a tragic story.

It’s interesting to read a book that you read when you were half as old as you currently are.  There is a straightforward story in Gatsby, but there is also a lot that Fitzgerld puts into the book that seems to linger just beyond the words on the page.  It makes me wonder if my teenage self was able to fully comprehend the point of the book, especially the closing pages. 

But I do like the way Fitzgerld writes.  The Great Gatsby is not a difficult read.  It comes in at a brisk 180 pages.  But it’s amazing how descriptive Fitzgerld is able to be such a short novel.  I’m sure some authors would need twice that many pages to tell the same story.  But Fitzgerald is highly effcient and effective with his words.  And maybe that was what I appreciated about him and this novel when I frst read it. 

But after a second read, I definitely appreciate the book more for what it is than what I think I imagined it to be when I read it back as a teenager.  The last chapter, in particular the last two or three pages, which sum up the “moral” of the story, are a lot clearer to me than back then, for sure.  The story of Jay Gatsby is a cautionary tale, but also an optimistic tale, and essentially an American tale.  It is about dreams and the American dream and how those can lead to great things, but also lead to dangerous things if unchecked or put on too high a pedestal.  Gatsby achieved the American dream in order to earn the love of Daisy.  It was a sacred thing to him, and as such, extremely fragile and delicate to handle when he tried to capture it once again. 

There’s an air of melancholy to the ending.  A sense that everyone is being driven to pursue or achieve or recapture the promise of something that once was, that “year by year recedes before us.  It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…  And one fine morning—-”  The indomitable will of the American spirit, encapsulated by one Jay Gatsby.  Written eloquently by one F. Scott Fitzgerld.